Trigger warning. Nu Sass’s world premiere of Weep is an arresting, unflinching peek into complicated lives with emotionally charged scenes and character collisions. It is a slowly building psychological thriller.
In the intimate CAOS space, with seating for about 30, the Weep audience becomes jurors, hearing the evidence in the deeply moving tragedy of Marina, a mother accused of drowning her two children. Under the sensitive direction of Nu Sass company member Bess Kaye, the original script penned by area playwright Amanda Zeitler follows the riveting story of Marina and Andy, the pregnant public defender assigned to her case.
The lives depicted in Weep are not often presented on area stages except perhaps in the Greek classic Medea or the Latin folktale La Llorona, which Zeitler used as source material. More likely, Weep lives might be noticed for a fleeting few moments as a “breaking news” crawl on the bottom of a screen or as a print newspaper’s article with a lurid headline. (In my long career with government social services programs, Weep’s dramatic content is all too real to me, not fictional).
It is no spoiler alert to write that a horrific event sets off the production’s journey – and that of the characters. Marina (a superb Boneza Valdez Hanchock who moves effortlessly and believably from sullen to angry) is lost trying to survive a world where she has been accused of the unthinkable and become viral media’s mythical bogeywoman. Andy (a topnotch Carolyn Kashner) is a public defender who desperately needs the big-win case that will finally launch her legal career. Her husband Jude (Drew Cannady, a controlling male presence) wants to stop waiting and start building the family he’s always wanted. And Simone (an excellent Pauline Lamb as the narrator who guides the search for “truth”) needs a successful follow up for her podcast’s surprisingly successful first season.
Playwright Zeitler’s script feels not researched from afar, but written from the mind and heart of someone knowing the characters she conjured. They have emotional range as they speak and interact on issues about class, race, gender, and death. There are several silent reactions that add punch to the production, making it feel immersive and real. The audience has a moment to process what they hear. This is no speeding train, thankfully.
I found Weep’s sparseness of setting and one-act length like a compassion-rich poem. With no need for added details, Weep lets the audience fill in, not be told. The audience is not hidden from one another but seated so they may observe one another. To be a whisper’s distance as the characters interacted, knowing they could hear me breathe in response, was riveting.
But Weep is not just heavy drama. There are moments of real human comic details. One that comes to mind is a scene in which Andy has an argument on the phone with her unseen assistant about the color of a file. It was an unexpected moment and such a human touch of detail by Zeitler.
As for technical details, Aubri O’Connor’s set design is a couch and diagonally opposite a wooden table with three chairs. Perhaps the entire play space is 9 x 12. A great deal happens through the production’s ten or so scenes within this set framing. The film noir lighting design by Lauren Gallup and smart podcast-like preshow sound design by Seoyoung Kim are both effective.
Weep is, at its heart, is a contemporary look into the lives of those many may not know. Is it for everyone? I doubt that, but it was for me. Weep is riveting as its four-person cast plumb the depths of human torment. It is a layered theatrical production that simultaneously pays homage to previous stories of filicide like Medea and the Mexican folk tale La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) in its haunting journey.
This is a play to see and react to. It is a production that Nu Sass receives my praise for producing. See it and let me know your reactions, please.
Running Time: About 75 minutes with no intermission.
Costume designers: Aubri O’Connor and Nina Howe-Goldstein.